“They’re not our arts, they’re your arts”
By Bambi Bogert
During Europe Day 2018, Programme Brexit sparked a heated debate. What other issues are we facing around Brexit? Andrew Murray, key note speaker at Europe Day, answers questions.
Do you think Brexit will impact the cultural sector?
Well, in all honesty it’s a bit beyond Brexit. It’s clear that Brexit, the rise of national populism and Trump will all affect European cultural diplomacy and cultural relations. The ironic fact is that a great deal of the new European approach to cultural diplomacy has come from the UK – via the British Council. And now the UK is set to leave, just as we’re about to implement this.
What exactly is this new European Approach?
Instead of traditional cultural diplomacy, it’s based on what is called a ‘cultural relations approach’. This is much more about listening and understanding each other, instead of using the arts to showcase and project your own culture onto other countries. It’s based upon the values of mutuality and reciprocity. And it’s not about diplomacy: you’re not doing it for short-term goals at the behest of the Foreign Office. You’re doing it at arms length of the government. This is an important difference between cultural diplomacy and the cultural relations approach. The new European Approach is based on genuine collaboration, hands-off from the state. Basically, you’re creating a space in which artists from different cultures can collaborate and share, learn to understand and be generous with each other.
Sounds wonderful. Surely the rest of the EU can manage, even without the UK?
Unfortunately I’m very pessimistic about it. This new approach was developed over the past ten years, after the Treaty of Lisbon, and all 28 members of the EU have agreed to it, including the UK. However, now there’s no longer an accepted, rule-based, liberal international order. It’s all come under threat. Internally the EU faces many challenges, for example with Macron, in Poland, in Hungary… you can’t see Brexit on its own. It’s going to be very difficult for this new approach to be implemented, given not only the internal problems the EU has, Brexit and national populism, but also the lack of a reliable partner in the USA and the way China and Russia are pumping up the public diplomacy efforts.
How are China, Russia and the USA impacting the EU on a cultural level?
They are pushing their own view of the world. We’re moving away from what Fukuyama described as ‘the end of history’ – the thought that we we’re all going to become liberal democracies. And yet, this is exactly where the EU’s global strategies are still coming from. Mogherini’s approach is based upon the assumption of universal values, and that everyone will eventually adopt them, simply because they make sense. You know, “we’re all cosmopolitans now”. But that no longer holds true. Trump is behaving in a nationalist way, China and Russia’s views are not based on human rights, democracy and free speech. Whatever European values are, they’re not their values. And every attempt to promote European values, or basic values, or human rights, might have seemed easy ten years ago. But it’s not going to be easy now.
During the Brexit debate, one of the topics was the fact that we lost our connection with the people who voted ‘leave’. How do we get them back?
Actually, what I say is that we never had them in the first place. The populists and those who voted ‘leave’ view the arts as something elitist. They see it as: “they’re not our arts, they’re your arts”. Some commentators are beating their breast and saying: oh, we lost touch with the common people, that’s why they voted for Trump, or voted ‘leave’, or voted for the National Front in France, or for PiS in Poland. It’s our fault for failing to connect with them. But hold on! These guys chose the wrong road. They may be ignorant. They may be genuinely misguided. But to suggest somehow that they are right, implies that your own values are wrong. So be very careful. There are 17 million who voted ‘leave’. Whatever their position, the majority of them have a closed-mind view of the world and their nationalist, anti-immigration, racist beliefs are simply wrong! Don’t fall into the trap of feeling somehow that they’re misunderstood. We understand their position perfectly, and it’s not one we agree with.
So what is your best advice? What should artists and people in the cultural sector do?
We have to ask ourselves: what is the role now to be played by the arts, given the Brexit, Trump and national populism? There are many challenges facing us. And there’s no magic bullet. You can’t go out as missionaries into rural areas or poor sectors and convert everyone to liberal values – that’s not going to work. But we do need to take our position and draw some lines. And meanwhile continue what you’re doing. Keep calm and carry on.
Andrew Murray is a recognized expert in cultural relations and diplomacy. He joined the British Council in 1988. In 2012 he moved to Brussels where he worked for EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture) and with the European Commission and the European External Action Service on the new EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations.